8 Mar 2006

Cook Islands confirms dumping its top diplomat in New Zealand

5:00 pm on 8 March 2006

The Cook Islands government has dumped its high commissioner to New Zealand.

A former prime minister, Dr Robert Woonton, has up to four weeks to vacate his residence and office in Wellington, and he's expected to return to medical work in Auckland.

The foreign minister Wilkie Rasmussen says Dr Woonton arranged a conspiracy and brought together MPs to try to overthrow the government.

"Three other members of parliament who attended that meeting stated that Dr Woonton was very instrumental in actually selecting people to form the new government, so on that basis that was clear enough for us to act quickly and terminate his appointment."

Mr Rasmussen says cabinet and caucus meetings today show the current government has the numbers to stay in office ahead of the parliament meeting next month.

Last week, both the government and opposition claimed a majority in the 24-seat house after two government MPs, Piho Rua and Upoko Simpson, aligned themselves with the opposition Cook Islands Party.